Cobra and Peacock

imagesAs many of you know, my favorite methods for having a nervous breakdown include migraines and panic attacks.  Yesterday, with no warning I could note, my bedroom, where I was peacefully watching “The Cat Whisperer” with my cat, became a very frightening place.  Even the bathroom down the hall was much too scary a place to go, in fact, to be inside my body in that moment was so scary I could not take it.  It was too scary to open my eyes, too scary to think about anything I could think about, too scary to not have my cat there, too scary to move, too scary to keep my eyes closed.  Pills.

The headaches make you crazy, coming and going, make you frazzled and worried and worn from pain, and jittery from caffeine, and this tells your nervous system to kick it one notch up and go all the way because clearly my veins are poison and I have to somehow outrun myself.

While I wait for my medicine to work, I watch “30 Rock,” which I always, always find funny, and listen to people yammer on about Disney World on some podcast.  Sometimes I try to do some yoga or meditate, but it’s very, very hard, even though I am in practice from sane moments.

I set my timer for 30 minutes over and over.  After 30 minutes, you’ll feel better.  After this 30 minutes.  Definitely after this 30 minute.  Thirty minutes, the human pill-taking gap to be jumped.  Wait.  Thirty minutes.

Funny, I had tried to go to a therapy appointment on Thursday.    I did not realize even a cab would take so long to get uptown.  I thought a cab ride would be a luxury, but with my headache, the potholes were just as bad as the bumping on the subway, and anyway, I ended up fifteen minutes late.

I figured out the building was a funny atrium off a big apartment building, climbed some stairs, buzzed a buzzer.  It buzzed back, and I opened the door.  Inside was a black guy sitting next to a lamp.  “Hi,” he said.  “Hi,” I said.  We were surrounded by peachy walls and at least five doors without any labels.  Would the doctor be out to greet me?  Hadn’t she just let me in?  I took out my magazine and tried to read a little.

My migraine was getting stronger, chopping away at a fat noodle-shaped section on the left side of my head.  Over the weeks, it trades off sides, out of politeness, I guess.

There was a shelf with odd old dishes lined up.  There were a few magazines on a table.  The chairs were mismatched.  The ceiling was a little too low.

I thought, as I often have in therapists’ offices, that this was my chance to behave really crazy, do something really, really crazy, but I can never think of anything I want to do.  Jumping jacks?  Scream obscenities?  Interpretive dance?  I wasn’t in the mood for any of that.  (This idea actually applies to the entire city of New  York, if you want to know the truth.)

Five minutes.  I called the therapist.  No answer.  Huh.  I called again.  The guy left his phone and wallet on the table next to him, and went into a room I assumed to be the bathroom.  He was in there a while, though.  He was trusting me, a fellow crazy person, with his thisses and thats?  He was crazy.  I should take his phone and sell it out on 85th Street.  But my head hurt, and I just wanted to go home.

Finally I walked over to the water cooler in the corner, pulled myself a cup of water and grabbed a handful of Cheerios from my bag.  As I had been leaving school that day, someone pulled an extra free breakfast of Cheerios out and handed it to me.  “Can you eat these?”  “Sure,” I said.  I ate two bites of Cheerios and split an Excedrin in half and threw that down with the water.

This was ridiculous.  I walked out.  So I had been late.  I would try again.  I would  try again.  I went back down to 85h Street and got on a 4 train home.

After migraine-to-panic-attack on Saturday I called my family.  They told me all the healthy things your family should tell you, including, “Every time this happens, no matter how many times it happens, it’s awful.  But it goes away.”

“You could buy yourself a plane ticket,” they also said.  “And you could just come back here.”  My school year is almost over, and I could do that, very soon.  “I don’t want to,” I said.  “I want to be here.” I was surprised I was saying that.

I do love New York more than ever, more all the time, the summer smells of the street, even sweating here, looking for the shady side of the street, and I love that the lady at the shop where I bought safety pins wears a sari, and that the guy who runs the register says to me three times, “Bag?” until I understand and say no.  The comfort of the subway always doing the same thing.  The citiness of it which is more citiness than anywhere in America.  Listening to mom tell her son about why the people in the subway ad are working on a pretend person.  The old guys on Eastern Parkway who sit outside their building at a card table and play dominoes every day after work.  The first spring day I saw them out there, I was so happy, they were my robins.

I didn’t want to leave town, I just wanted to be sane again.

I’ve done this before, this migraine/panic attack cycle, and I’ve gotten out of it before, too.  Mostly it seemed to require patience, until it runs itself out.  This is my brain saying it’s had enough, and it knows I have time to fall apart now. Unfortunately it is right.  Four days of wrapping up at work, and my brain gets a solid two months to go as crazy as it wants.

Did I not do this big thing?  Did I not settle in enough?  Did I not make enough friends?  Did I not invest enough in my new place?  Did I not take good enough care of myself?  Did I go back home too much?  Did I spend enough time in my neighborhood?  Exercising?  Reading?  Writing?  Praying and yoga and stuff?  Was I too brave, or not brave enough?  Should I have been more outgoing?  Was I too outgoing with the wrong people?  How do you actually select your new life, your new friends, your new places, in a new place?  How does that happen?

What does it mean that this is even possible, people getting to know some new and other you when they haven’t had the right to know what you used to think of as the real you?  Although it was definitely not a continuous personality, the you turtle-shell shy fifteen to lazy, secretly mouthy seventeen to devilish twenty-five to half mule/half eagle of thirty-five.

Some time and place is required to let my brain chew on all these questions, and review, as it does in dreams, everything that has happened, what it might mean.  I feel my subconscious is about six months behind my consciousness, most of the time.  Which is what I intended to do some of with the therapist except I was late, and what I can, gentle reader, do here for free.  Tell, and review, or reveal, that I am peacock/cobra now, heavy, delicate, earthbound, defensive, symbol of unrequited love (of various sorts), sharp-tongued, and can I lie?  Liking the plumage.

IMG_0823“Peacock and Cobra,” James Prosek

Young American

IMG_0078A couple of months ago, I was on the subway, and in a classic liberal fashion, I was talking out my guilt to some innocent bystander, and I said, “I don’t think we should teach about the Holocaust any more.” What I meant, I realize now, was: “I can’t teach about the Holocaust. I can’t do it.” When you tell me something is hard to do, I am usually inspired.

This places a close second to the evening that, at closing time, instead of going somewhere else to make out with a charming Jewish boy, I instead castigated him for not knowing about both creation stories, and directed him to go home immediately and study Torah.

I can’t do it. I really can’t. I don’t have the balls. Or the guts, or whatever it is you need. I am too without armor. I don’t have nightmares. Maybe if I did, I could.

When I was studying the Holocaust, I shivered and I wandered and there was not enough yoga or prayer and I got too drunk and art was more like food to me than usual.  I could hardly eat, though.

And hearing about anti-Semitic violence reminds me of all that.

I read that some white guy had gone crazy and started shooting outside the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City. It took me a while to feel it. Then I did, and it hit me in the same place where I felt it when my students got shot four years ago. The violent deaths all hit in the same spot with the same kind of sharpness. Cancer and Alzheimer’s and heart attacks are different, an ache.

I was at the JCC for work, most recently. They have a day care center where we did research.

We also did research at the federal building’s day care center, which always reminded me of the one in Oklahoma City, and the photos of the wounded kids being taken out of it.

I’m sure I was also at the JCC to pick someone up, or to see someone perform something, when I was in my Jewish groupie period.

A crazy white guy also shot up the parking lot of my Kansas City Target, ran into the mall where I had gotten my photo taken with Santa and the Easter bunny.  He went in there and kept on shooting.

This is our Christian season of mourning. Three days til our biggest mourning day.  All the sermons, I realized, in the four long days I’ll spend at church, all the sermons will be about this.  The priests are writing them now.  “Our Jewish brothers and sisters.”  They will be in all the prayers.  “The victims of the shooting,” at my old church where we had a candle lit for every person killed by “community violence,” and the candles got lit, one by one, every year.

Yesterday I felt like I was on vacation. It was seventy degrees and I wore a dress. I went into The City for this literary festival. I never bothered with such things in Kansas City, but one funny side effect of being here is that I have all this room in my life, and I get to decide what goes in it. I spent four hours or so listening to people read and tell stories. I thought I hated readings because if you don’t like the work, you are stuck there, unlike an art show. I didn’t mind too much when the work wasn’t great, though, I was happy to be out of the house and entertained and sort of social without having to work at being social.

In line for the bathroom, the woman ahead of me was someone I knew. She was in my session at the conference last week. Small town.

One session was about music venues of New York that have shut down. It seemed very cool, and God forbid anyone should try to be cool, but I was hungry, and that was what was happening at the place with the food. So I ate and listened.

One woman had bleached blonde hair and wore a pink hoodie and said she had gone to Sarah Lawrence. I went to Sarah Lawrence. She was a scholarship kid, she said. I was a scholarship kid. She had to scrounge for money for the train into the city. Seven dollars each way, it was, I think. She had an internship at the Village Voice. I, uh, did not.

And I wouldn’t have wanted one. While she was having these drug-softened and drug-enhanced adventures in a New York club so fabulous that she was asked to recount the tales at a literary festival, I was soberly reading St. Augustine and making pilgrimages to the Met.

At least I did a little underage drinking. At least I wandered into some sex shops, saw some good drag. But goodness, I was so afraid, afraid of sex and all manner of drugs and other people as well as myself. She probably was, too, but I kept cautious, thinking that would protect me, and she acted out, and we were probably more the same than different.

Then I was home again, and New York was no longer mine.

Instead of learning about art and art scene downtown (I think it was still downtown then, though probably creeping to Brooklyn), I learned in Kansas City. Instead of a hungry sort of ambition, there was a haunted sort of impudence. People were still poor and scrappy, but there was much less flow. There were not choices of scenes. If you liked art, or you were a writer, there was what there was.   There wasn’t all this extra stimulation, people from all over, all these places to have adventures. You had to, much more so, make your own. There was a solidity to things, a steadiness, that was frustrating and also, probably, good for me.

Do I wonder if I missed something? I do.

I did sit at those readings and think, a couple of times, I have read at a thing like this, and I could have written something better, funnier, more engaging, for this occasion. That was a nice feeling.

At the end of the nightlife eulogies, the woman next to me said, “Did they talk about Mud?”

“I think it was mentioned,” I said. “But no one really talked about it.”

She explained she was not a music writer, but had been there for another event. “I was in this booth and had this forty-five minute chat with someone and he had his hat down mostly over his face, we had a nice conversation, and then he looked up, and it was David Bowie.”

“That’s a great story,” I said. I wanted to ask her more about it, but I didn’t know what to ask.

I still wish I had danced to “Young American” when I was in London and I was one. It was a minor playlist oversight on the part of an otherwise lovely Nigerian DJ.

I am sorry, sort of, that people flew me out to New York three years ago and put me up and taught me about teaching the Holocaust and I didn’t do much with what they gave me. We all get gifts we don’t know what to do with.

Pictured: Iowa somewhere, I think.  I had no idea how to illustrate this one.

The Armory Show I

This is what I knew:

1. Most of the artists I love best were “discovered” in America at the Armory Show in 1913.

2. It cost $40.  Damn.

3. It’s on the piers on the west side.  I have been to Chelsea Piers now, with my kids, to take them ice skating.  On these huge things that go out into the water, they’ve put other stuff, now.  Like lots of convention centers that have great views.

Here were my pressing questions:

1. Will I be able to get a cup of coffee?

2. Will I be able to get food, or a glass of wine?

3. How can I possibly see it all?

So I find something to wear that makes me feel I am adding to the careful and arresting visual environment.  When I get to the proper pier, guy tells me they can’t find my ticket with an ID or credit card.  I am too new to smartphone to realize when he asks if I have my ticket, I do.

I go down to the next pier.  That first pier was Modern, the other pier is Contemporary.  I think we should have stuck with calling our current art modern, but then, I love modern, either way.   I figured Contemporary was the place to be, anyway.  Once I got down to Contemporary, past a tented area selling food and offering stools and tables, I realized I did have my ticket, and successfully navigated several confusing checkpoints to get my wristband and get in.


Like most things in New York City, the Armory show is too big for anyone to figure out or manage, even the people who are running it.   That is both what I love about New York, and what is frustrating.

Indeed it was an art fair where I definitely could not afford any of the art, not even a little print in a bin.  There were no little prints in bins.

What I didn’t expect was that, in addition to all the booths of art, there were periodically areas of couches and stools, and several areas to get food and drink.  Like an art opening, like a Dolphin opening, for KC folks, the atmosphere was very relaxed.  People sat around and people napped, between art looks.  I realized I could have gone early and taken a very slow approach.  Unlike at a museum, where I feel I have to pace myself and force myself to be aware of when the cafe is open and make myself take breaks there and get fed, the Armory Show has all the time in the world to let you snuggle down, chat with friends, come and go.

Most of the hundred booths had stuff I found interesting enough to glance at, plenty of them were interesting enough to want a closer look.  At a few places, I thought, what is this doing here?  But there’s no accounting for taste.j

It was fun that there were people there from all over the world.  The bored people sitting at the tables in the booths chatted with each other in German, Chinese.

But enough: what was there to see?


Bjorn Dahlem, Probability Tree.  I love trees.  Dahlem’s trees grow out of perfume bottles, and the little P in the middle is P for perfect.  See how the way things go can spread out and where things can go?


IMG_0669A photo of a  library I didn’t think could look so gorgeous, at least not a nondescript library like this, but it’s about color, right?  Blue, blue, blue, and like all the pieces here, it looked much better in person than my poor iPhone skills would suggest.  (Hrair Sarkissian.)


Third: because I am a bad person, I forgot to photograph the name of this artist, but it was a set of nine photographs, seven of them the beautiful backs of black women’s heads, showing off their complex hairstyles, and one in profile, and one from the front.  So many of them as objects, as what people might ask them about, or wonder about, instead of themselves, troubling, maybe.  They were lovely, though, all of them, and this one rather tree-like, speaking of trees.  Dr. Seuss trees.



Why does this rabbit trust all these cats?  I have no idea, but look at him go.  This booth had a whole collage of pieces like that hanging, including one with the rabbit making a sculpture of the cats to go with his painting.  One thing that makes me sad is that people are often so serious when they look at art.  This was the first silly piece I saw.  (That one by Atsushi Kaga.)


Last in this post, one of the most popular pieces: a view.  Patrick Jacobs makes portholes that you look into and see a whole world.  People gathered around them and grinned and oohed.  There were three.  One reason you go look at art is to see magic, and these were magic.  There was a world in there, sure as the world you imagined of fairies living in tree roots or Borrowers or Pee Wee’s ants or whatever.IMG_0674

Armory Show II

IMG_0676IMG_0678IMG_0680IMG_0681More from the Contemporary side of things.  The first piece came from origami, and I loved the colors.  All of them were squares and played with ideas of folding without using any actual folding (Alyson Shotz).

Next were some African masks by Romuald Hazourme, made out of containers for liquid– gasoline, we would think of first, but I figured in Africa they would more likely be water containers.  New and people using what’s around, right?  And what do containers contain?  Something about who you are, or who you are going to be?

The buckets somehow had screens inside them, with views looking up, so that you would be looking down but looking up.  Clever and fun.

The last one in this entry is a branch rotating slowly, in front of a screen showing a similar branch.  The branch behind has its needles and the one in front of you does not.  Simple as this was, it was also a crowd-pleaser, showing how things are alive or not alive, or might be alive inside, a nice idea for the early March of a hard winter.